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2016 Fantasy football: Quarterback rankings

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Ryan Mathews is here to help you win your fantasy league. Take a seat and let him educate you on 2016's best fantasy quarterback options.

Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

It’s almost August and this means that the football season is quickly approaching. And when real, honest-to-goodness football is just around the corner, fake football is too! You’re in your local grocery store and you swore you were only stopping in for the essentials. You're waiting to check out and would you look at that, a fantasy football magazine by ESPN or Sports Illustrated or something of the other! It's there waiting for you, waiting to be tossed on top of your bread and cause a fight between your significant other and yourself over why the bread isn’t shaped how it should be. Look, I like all the parts on a loaf of bread, so let’s not squish bread. Let’s not fight with loved ones over some bread: there's no sense in crying over some sour dough. Instead, let's break bread; let’s not buy fantasy football magazines. Relax with your favorite beverage and let me take you through my positional rankings that will eventually give way to a big board thay you can print out, take to your draft and end the hopes and dreams of any who stand in your way of fantasy football domination.

I'm kicking things off with quarterbacks and from here, who knows where this magical mystery ride might take us, but feel free to bring anything fantasy related to the comment section. Without further ado, I bring to you...

The 2016 Guide to Crushing the Competition

Group "I’m going to take a quarterback before mostly everyone else does and here goes nothing"

1. Aaron Rodgers

While I don’t completely agree with some who say that you should have a short memory when it comes to fantasy football, disregard what players did the previous season and play in the here and now, Aaron Rodgers’ 2015 is a season I’m going to almost completely disregard; he’s a total case of "forget what happened last year, it was an abhorrent aberration, Aaron Rodgers is really freaking good, his line is healthy heading into 2016 and Jordy Nelson is back to make things all better." It’s a pretty specific case, but it’s definitely Rodgers’ case heading into this year. So forget that Rodgers finished 12th in fantasy points amongst all quarterbacks last year. Forget that Rodgers finished in the top ten in fantasy points among quarterbacks only five times last year, while finishing 25th or worse in fantasy points four times — yikes. Forget that Rodgers' 31 touchdown passes in 2015 were his worst total in a full season since 2009. Forget that his 5.4 TD% last year was his worst percentage since the 5.2 TD% he posted in 2008, his first full season as a starter. Forget that while he only threw 8 interceptions, his 60.7 completion percentage last season was the worst of his career since he became a starter. Forget all of it because 2015 Aaron Rodgers isn’t going to be the Aaron Rodgers of 2016.

2. Cam Newton

2015 was the year of Cam Newton. Dabbing, handing out footballs, playing with Ted Ginn Jr. as his only outside threat; everything about 2015 was Cam Newton. In 2016, I expect less dabbing, more footballs getting handed out, but a slight dip in fantasy production from the 2015 NFL MVP. Don’t get me wrong — and Jeremy Reisman can attest to this — I think the entire world of Cam Newton. He averaged a whopping 28.5 FPts/G in 2015, a good 3.1 more points per game than the second ranked quarterback, Tom Brady. Cam’s 45 total touchdowns in 2015 were his most in a season since his rookie campaign when he got into the end zone a total of 35 times — 14(!) of them by way of rushing. In 2015, Newton’s 496 passing attempts and 132 rushing attempts were his most since his respective rookie and sophomore seasons. Getting back a healthy Kelvin Benjamin will give Newton another bonafide receiving threat outside of Mr. Reliable, Greg Olsen, but the 2.0 INT% that Cam posted in 2015 was a career best, and I expect that number to move back towards his career average before 2015: 2.8 INT%.

3. Russell Wilson

The real Russell Wilson is the one that we all saw after Week 10 in 2015. I believe that. I believe in that Russell Wilson. If you drafted Wilson in round five of your fantasy draft last year, you probably incessantly called yourself a stupid idiot for the first ten weeks of last season and swore that you would never draft another quarterback so high ever again. After all, Wilson averaged a very mundane 15.8 FPts/G over those first ten weeks and he never finished higher than ninth amongst quarterbacks during that time. If you find yourself in round five of your draft this year and you already have two receivers and two running backs selected, you better not give yourself the Y2J treatment again. Promise me right now that you don’t let your affinity for Super Future Hendrix influence your decision of drafting Wilson. Over the final seven weeks of the season, Wilson put up 27.7 FPts/G and finished top three in fantasy scoring among quarterbacks four out of those seven weeks, ranking as the best option at quarterback twice — Week 12 and Week 14. He did enough damage through the air and on the ground for those seven weeks to take him from the 17th rated quarterback to finish third behind only Newton and Brady. Draft Russell Wilson.

Group "I waited out the initial flurry of quarterbacks coming off the board and I’m probably better for it with this guy"

4. Andrew Luck

No quarterback is getting the "are we sure this guy is good?" question as much as Andrew Luck this offseason, which, to put it plainly, is complete and utter nonsense. Luck is a season removed from being the best fantasy quarterback in the NFL in 2014. Throwing for 40 TDs, passing for 4,761 yards and adding another three scores and 263 yards on the ground, people were singing the praises of Luck from the hilltops. When the Colts lost to the Patriots in the 2014 AFC Championship Game, people thought it was a sign of growth, and certainly not the last time Luck would find himself in that situation. But oh boy, what a difference a season makes. Luck didn’t show up on the injury report in only five weeks last season, and after lacerating his kidney in Week 9 against the Denver Broncos, the Colts shut him down for the rest of 2015. The injuries were a problem for Luck all of last season, but with the Colts using four of its eight draft picks on offensive linemen, including their first-round selection on Alabama center Ryan Kelly, it’s clear that the team is doing everything they can to keep Luck upright and healthy this season. Expect the Colts to continue to tout one of the most prolific aerial offenses in the league, and with Andrew Luck at the helm of said offense, expect him to bounce back in a big way.

5. Drew Brees

If there was a quarterback that could fall into your lap in either the late eighth or early ninth rounds of your fantasy draft, ideally that quarterback would be Drew Brees. No quarterback threw for more yards than Brees, who passed for 4,780 yards in only 15 games of action. As far as efficiency and volume go, you can’t do much better than Drew Brees; his 68.3 completion percentage was second to only Kirk Cousins and his 41.8 Att/G put him first among quarterbacks. In 2015, Brees ranked fourth amongst quarterbacks in FPts/G with 20.4, and with new additions like Coby Fleener and Michael Thomas to go along with Brandin Cooks and Willie Snead, Brees will have plenty of weapons to spread the ball around to in order to rack up fantasy points in 2016. People may be wary of Brees, Brady or Palmer as your QB1 because of the struggles of Peyton Manning last season, but it’s time to leave the memory of 2015, Budweiser-pedaling Peyton Manning in 2015. His mounting number of lingering injuries, mostly stemming from his neck fusion, and an offensive system that stood at odds with his skill set, combined to spell disaster for both the real and the fantasy Peyton Manning. Don’t concern yourself with these things. The ever-so-durable Brees has been a marker of consistency for the past six seasons not only because he led the league in passing yards four times — and in both completion percentage and touchdowns twice during that stretch — but because he’s only missed one game in the past six seasons. That’s right, you heard it here first: 2016 Drew Brees =/= 2015 Peyton Manning.

6. Ben Roethlisberger

Here’s the difference between Brady and Roethlisberger: one is definitely going to miss four games while the other will most likely miss anywhere between two and four games. Since 2009, Roethlisberger has played all 16 games in a season only twice, missing four games last season with a sprained MCL and a nagging foot injury. Durability is a concern for the Steelers quarterback, but if he manages to stay healthy for even 15 games this season, he could end up scoring more points than any other quarterback in fantasy. The Steelers’ offense will be without some key contributors from a season ago: Martavis Bryant is suspended for the season and Le’Veon Bell is facing a four game suspension that he’s convinced he won’t be serving, but in the words of Tripper from Meatballs, "it just doesn’t matter." Antonio Brown is still the best receiver in football, DeAngelo Williams will be his productive self to keep the offense rolling should Bell get suspended and newly added Ladarius Green could end up getting the chance to prove his talents with more opportunities than he had in San Diego and no Hall of Fame tight end waiting to take his spot. Six top-10 finishes among quarterbacks last season proves that when Roethlisberger was healthy and on the field, he produced. The Steelers’ defense isn’t very good and this kept the Steelers’ offense doing the heavy lifting in order to put the team in position to win. Roethlisberger threw the ball over 39 times per game and he led the league with 328.2 passing yards per game which shows that when he was on the field, he threw the ball an awful lot for an awful lot of yards. Consider him to be a candidate to bounce back in a big way and someone you might be able to snag with a 10th or early 11th round selection.

Group "I’m taking a quarterback that’s suspended for four games, what do I do after this pick?"

7. Tom Brady

SCOTUS doesn’t have the answer, but I think I do. Look, even though you’ll only get 12 games out of Brady after he serves his suspension, or possibly 11 if your league ends before Week 17, you’re going to get the quarterback who finished second to only Cam Newton in fantasy points in 2015. Brady’s 2015 season was nothing short of impressive as he posted a league-high 36 passing touchdowns, added 4,770 yards through the air — his most since 2012 — and three rushing touchdowns where he does that thing where he gets the ball from the center, basically falls forward between a couple of linemen and Cris Collinsworth tells you just how incredible Tom Brady is at goal line sneaks while Al Michaels laughs audibly. Clearly, Brady was operating on all cylinders at 38 and there’s little to no reason to be concerned about Brady as he goes into his 17th NFL season. The Patriots receiving corps was pretty banged up last season: Julian Edelman, the number one targeted receiver by Brady through the first nine games of the season, missed the final seven games of the regular season, Rob Gronkowski missed a game in Week 13, Danny Amendola missed two games, Brandon LaFell missed five games. Brady’s first half was much better than his second, as he finished in the top ten in fantasy points amongst quarterbacks through Week 10, but all of those injuries to the Patriots’ receiving corps definitely had an effect on Brady’s production.

But the question on everyone’s mind is where to draft Brady and what to do after you take a quarterback and still don’t have one to play for the first four weeks. Here’s what you do: draft Brady, wait until your draft is over, get in your car and drive to the nearest Wingstop, order some fries with lemon pepper seasoning and then take a look at all the quarterbacks who weren’t drafted. You’re going to be able to find some serviceable quarterbacks with favorable matchups to get you through those first four weeks like Brock Osweiler, Jay Cutler and Teddy Bridgewater just to name a few.

Group "I’m not sure what to make of the year these guys had last season, but wasn’t one almost the MVP and the other definitely not?"

8. Carson Palmer

As much as I love Carson Palmer — and I mean I LOVE Carson Palmer — the 36-year-old veteran, heading into his 13th NFL season, should experience a bit of regression from a fantasy standpoint after finishing as the fifth-best quarterback. By all accounts, Palmer’s 2015 was statistically his best season to date: 4,671 passing yards, 291.9 passing yards per game, 35 passing touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 8.7 yards per attempt and 13.7 yards per completion were just some of the career-best totals that Palmer posted last year. Up until Palmer dislocated a finger during a Sunday Night Football matchup against the Eagles, Palmer had thrown 31 touchdowns to only nine interceptions and was at the center of MVP discussions. But what a difference a few weeks can make of the public’s perception of you. Including that Sunday night performance in Week 15, Palmer’s final three weeks netted four touchdown passes to two interceptions whereas Cam Newton’s seven passing touchdowns, three rushing scores and zero interceptions swung the race in his favor and ended up costing Palmer the 2015 NFL MVP. Combine that with Palmer’s mostly dreadful playoff performance against Green Bay and definitely awful performance against Carolina and, huzzah, Newton is who you want and Palmer is who you should wait on in drafts. It’s not nearly that cut and dry to me, and while I still value Palmer as a QB1, he did only have three weeks where he scored enough fantasy points to place him in the top five amongst quarterbacks.

9. Philip Rivers

Rivers is a less-bankable version of Brees when it comes to fantasy this season if only because I don’t see the same supporting cast around Rivers in San Diego as I do in Brees’ situation in New Orleans. However, if you can wait until the late tenth or early eleventh round to nab Rivers, you’re probably better for it than reaching for Brees earlier than the seventh round and risk getting more depth at either receiver or running back. As I’m typing this, I’m convincing myself that I like Philip Rivers in 2016 more than I did when I decided to dig deeper into his 2015 season for a few reasons. For one, Rivers will be reunited with Ken Whisenhunt for the first time since 2013, a year that saw Rivers post a career high in completion percentage — 69.5 percent. Last season, Rivers was the 12th-best quarterback in fantasy, but if it wasn’t for the Chargers’ offense getting completely decimated by injuries, he probably would have easily been top ten in FPts last season. D.J. Fluker, Chris Hairston and Orlando Franklin all missed at least four starts last season along the offensive line. Keenan Allen, Rivers’ best outside threat through the air and a potential breakout candidate this year if he can manage to stay healthy, was placed on IR after Week 8. Ladarius Green missed five starts, Antonio Gates missed five games due to suspension and injury and rookie running back Melvin Gordon missed the final two games of the season after struggling to establish any sense of consistency. In other words, Rivers may have had less to work with than any other quarterback in the NFL. Still, with at least Keenan Allen on the field for the first eight weeks, Rivers managed to score 20.5 FPts/G, finish in the top 10 among quarterback six out of eight times — including a first place finish in Week 4 — and posting a 70.4 completion percentage over that timespan. After the loss of Allen, Rivers scored 116.1 FPts over those final eight weeks, good for only 14.5 FPts/G. If the offense can manage to stay healthier as a unit, Rivers, like Brees, is one of the three best quarterbacks when it comes to accuracy — never passing for less than 66 percent in his last three seasons — and consistency — Rivers hasn’t missed a game since 2006 when he became the full-time starter.

To be truthful, I wanted to rank Rivers at eight because that’s how many kids he has. If you have eight kids, you’re really accurate and consistent, too.

Group "I’m scrolling through the player pool and I'm only seeing one Manning, what gives?"

10. Eli Manning

Oh yeah, as one Manning bows out, another will rise. If you’re selling Eli Manning stock, I’m buying it. I want to put him higher on this list, but you have to understand that I basically live in a virtual room with the likes of Alex Reno every single day of my life, and I would never hear the end of it if I had ranked Eli higher than — dare I say it — Carson Palmer. Gulp. Okay, enough with the jokes: Eli Manning is going to be, more often than not, a QB1 this season. He was, after all, the 10th-ranked quarterback in fantasy last year, scoring 18 FPts/G. Ever since offensive coordinator — now turned head coach — Ben McAdoo showed up in New York, Eli has been putting up stats like he never had before and it has a lot to do with the sheer number of opportunities that have opened up to him in the passing game. Well that and it doesn’t hurt to have Odell Beckham Jr. lining up for you to catch balls. In 2015, Eli set career-highs in completions (387), attempts (618) and passing touchdowns (35) — 2014 and 2015 being the first set of back-to-back years he’s thrown for 30+ touchdowns. His turnovers are way down since McAdoo was hired: 28 interceptions in 2014 and 2015 combined while he had 27 total in 2013 alone. While performing at a consistent level still might be a problem for Eli — seven top-10 finishes among quarterbacks, but also five finishes worse than 20th — he has never missed a game or a start since he became the full-time starter in 2005.

Group "While they all have a lot to prove this year, they all have different things to prove for different reasons"

11. Blake Bortles

12. Matthew Stafford

13. Tyrod Taylor

Group "Last year’s rookies!"

14. Marcus Mariota

15. Jameis Winston

Group "That you like"

16. Kirk Cousins

Group "Kellen Moore is only a phone call away…"

17. Tony Romo

Group "Me and Amari are the 2009 version of Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson!"

18. Derek Carr

Group "Where did all of my receivers go?..."

19. Andy Dalton

Group "A whole lot of Ryan"

20. Ryan Tannehill

21. Matt Ryan

22. Ryan Fitzpatrick

Group "If these quarterbacks switched situations that would be kind of entertaining, but also kind of not entertaining, right?"

23. Brock Osweiler

24. Alex Smith

Group "#WeOwnTheBears"

25. Jay Cutler

Group "Might be elite, might just both have purple on their jerseys, might just sit on your waiver wire all season"

26. Teddy Bridgewater

27. Joe Flacco

Group "New rookies!"

28. Jared Goff

29. Paxton Lynch

Group "The island of misfit toys"

30. Colin Kaepernick

31. Robert Griffin III

32. Sam Bradford

32. Geno Smith

Update: